Tungurahua, Ecuador’s "Black Giant"

Tungurahua is one of the many volcanoes that dot Ecuador’s Cordillera Central and shares its name with the central Ecuadorian province of Tungurahua. Among Tungurahua’s close neighbors are Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. At 16,479 feet (5,023 meters) high, Tungurahua is not the tallest Ecuadorian volcano but it is one of the most distinctive. Tungurahua’s name can be translated from the local Quechua dialect to mean “Throat of Fire”, an apt name for this still active volcano. It is also sometimes known as “The Black Giant”, as its summit is noticeably less snowy than other Andean volcanoes due to its recent history of eruptions.

Currently Tungurahua is in one of its regular bouts of activity that have occurred roughly every 80 to 100 years over the past thousand years. Violent eruptions in 1773, 1886 and 1916 saw the mountain produce outflows of thick, viscous Basaltic lava and red hot pyroclastic flows that roared down Tungurahua’s slopes, instantly incinerating everything in their path. A new phase of activity that began in October of 1999 and surged in 2006 has caused widespread damage to area farms and livestock. Eruptions accompanied by pyroclastic flows have destroyed villages, blocked roads and rivers, and most significantly resulted in the deaths of at least 5 people. The violence and unpredictability of Tungurahua’s eruptions in July and August of 2006 have caused the local authorities to close the mountain to hikers who have traditionally enjoyed spectacular views from the trails that zigzag across Tungurahua’s slopes.

When the mountain is quiet, one can deeply appreciate the primeval beauty of the land. In 1979, the government of Ecuador created Sangay National Park to conserve and preserve this remarkable ecosystem. The contrast between volcanic peaks, deep valleys, icy glaciers and verdant forests moved the United Nations to declare Sangay National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Tungurahua is one of several active volcanoes that exist in the park, so tourists and travelers should check with park operators and government agencies before planning a visit.